Chp. 8: A Confrontation
"You said we needed to talk, well let's talk." Alex said, his chin thrust forward. He sat on an old, well worn chair which was beautifully carved. Vines crawled up the legs spiraling around them to curl about the hideous, apparently, mythical beasts carved onto arms. Alex knew all too well, though, that those creatures were not a figment of the imagination at all. It was a chair he had sat in often, although it seemed like it had been a lifetime since he had done so last, and now that he thought about it perhaps it had. He sat Beast's chair in the Judgement room. A thought that brought back many uncomfortable memories, which almost made him squirm in his chair at the thought of them. In reality he was sitting on an old chair carved by an older Ranger, as a way to pass the time. He sat in large round room which was actually the center of a huge tree, that was actually the Head Ranger's audience chamber. Even though these were simple things, he could still feel the anticipation and anxiety that hundreds of young Rangers had felt within these aged walls. He felt uneasy.
"Yes we have matters to discuss." Flint said as he sat across from Alex. He sat in a chair that Alex remembered had once been occupied by an old, weathered man by the name of Marion An old weathered man who had struck fear into Alex's heart from the seat where Flint now sat. An old man who had been like a father to Alex. It saddened Alex to see that man missing from his rightful place.
"Well, continue." Alex said, beginning to get impatient.
"You know what I speak of Alex, don't pretend that you do not." Flint said, leaning over the old wooden desk which separated them. It squeaked in protest as he allowed his considerable weight to rest fully on it.
"Yes, when last I left this place you swore that if I ever returned here you would blacken my eye." Alex said trying to remain calm in a chair that seemed to demand emotion.
"Blacken your eye!" Flint roared. "When you left I swore I would do much more than simply blacken your eye."
"Well if that's the way of it," Alex said rising from his chair, looking in Flint in the eye. "Then lets be about this, I have much to do if you'll let me leave this place."
"What's this all about then", Flint said still crouched over the large desk. "I thought we could talk about this. Since you've left I've come to a few new conclusions. I think I understand where you were coming from now. This really isn't necessary."
"No Flint," Alex said. "I took an oath the same as everyone else. I swore I would always stand by the Brotherhood of the Rangers, no matter what. Now you're the new Head, it is up to you to decide any sort of punishment."
"Alex, come now, we all know that, that particular rule is one that we've let slide, especially for men under your circumstances. A man cannot be expected to raise a family..."
"No, Flint, I took an oath, and when I left this place I broke that oath. Now lets deal with this."
"Alex, be reasonable, its been years and you've been forgiven. Many men before and many after have done the same thing. It is not so unusual, and besides without those such as you how would we get our necessary supplies from the outside world. Those like you, the Oathbroken, have kept us alive, despite the rules. Marion knew this, can't you see it too." Flint said rising to tower above Alex. He was an immense man who was very imposing and hard to argue with, but Alex had dealt with Flint for years and he was used to steeling himself against the man was seemed a giant.
"Marion would have known that despite this he had to deal out punishment. Marion would have been able to do what he had to. I wish Marion was here now, instead of this joke of Head that stands before me now." Alex said moving closer towards Flint.
"What!" Flint roared, rushing quickly to stand, his chest in Alex's face. "How dare you insult me so! You want punishment! Fine then, you will pay for what you have done."
Alex watched as Flint cocked his enormous arm back as if to strike him. The fist at the end of that arm was the size of a good ham and its knuckles were scarred and sunken from obvious frequent use. Alex let his eyes follow that fist up the arm till they came to Flint's huge biceps which now bulged, veins standing out clearly as blood rushed to them, and he thought to himself that they must be about the same size as his legs. Flint's arm started its descent downward towards Alex's face and Alex imagined the impact, Flint's fists, powered by those huge arms, crashing into his jaw. A blow from a man Flint's size could mangle a man's face forever. A blow from Flint could kill a man. Alex closed his eyes and braced for the impact, wondering if he would live to see another day.
But the impact did not come. Instead Alex heard Flint's booming laughter and felt a hearty slap against his back. He opened his eyes to see Flint doubled over in laughter his hand still on Alex's back, now using him for support so that he would not fall over.
"I take it, there will be no punishment." Alex said dryly, not amused in the slightest.
"Punishment? No I don't think I'll need any more punishment. It was enough for me just to see your face!" Flint said doubling over yet again. When his head came up Alex could see there were tears in his eyes, he was laughing so hard.
"You really think that was funny." Alex said sourly, standing upright, trying to regain as much dignity as he still had left.
"Funny? Oh, Alex how I've missed your company. You should never have left here." Flint said catching his laughter and standing upright again.
"Yes, but you know I had to leave Flint. I thought you said you understood?"
"I didn't then, but I think I do now, my friend. So have we settled our last debt?"
"I think so," Alex said his voicing turning serious. "But now I'm afraid I need to put myself in your debt yet again, my friend."
"Yes, I imagined as much," Flint said scowling furiously. "You would not have come here had you not had great need of us. So please, tell me what I can do for you."
"Flint I've known you for years, so please listen to me fully."
"Alex, what is it, you can talk to me." Flint said puzzled.
"My friend, I need to go through the Gorge."
"Flint, let me finish." Alex said.
"Fine, fine, but this better be good."
"I need to go through the Gorge." Alex said pausing. "Because that's were my daughter is."
"Your daughter?" Flint said questioningly.
"Have you heard about my recent downfalls in wealth Flint?" Alex said his voicing turning very somber.
"Somewhat. I know you made it quite big in Innesport. You became Governor or something right, and then some business deals soured didn't they?"
"Yes, yes. I made my fortune and then it slid through my fingers. I raised a family, only to have my son disappear into the see. I had a daughter, only to have my wife die in her birth..."
"Dahlia, oh Alex I am so sorry, I didn't know." Flint said coming closer to Alex. "Had I known I would have..."
"It's alright Flint, I have had a long time to get over her death, seventeen years in fact. I finished my mourning long ago, now I only rejoice in my memories of her. But now I only have one thing left. I've lost my power, money, and almost all of my family. The one thing I have left in my life is my daughter, and she is on the other side of the Gorge." Alex said bowing his head low.
"On the other side? Alex I would do anything for you, especially something like this, but how can you be sure that is where she is. I mean we're not even sure there is something across the Gorge." Flint said looking quite worried.
"I can't be sure that is where she is. I only have a lead, but it's the only lead I have to finding her since she disappeared. And you know just as well as I that there has to be people living on the other side of the Gorge. Where else would Dahlia have come from."
"She could have come from the north." Flint said a with an edge in his voice. "She never told us where she came from, and besides how could a lone woman make it through the Gorge."
"I don't know, but my daughter is being taken across, and I need to get her. I feel like things might already be out of my control."
"Taken? Alex, by who?"
"You really wouldn't believe me if I told you Flint."
"Try me." Flint said with a sardonic tone in his voice.
"Okay, my daughter has been captured and is now being carried across the Gorge by an organized group of Darklings." Alex said and he watched Flint's visage become very thoughtful. It was silent for a long while until at last Flint opened his mouth."
"Who is your lead?" Flint said cautiously.
"A man who calls himself Ghost."
"He is the man who ruined me. In fact he told me he spent his whole life working towards ruining me. Perhaps you've heard what he is more commonly called. The Ghost of Innesport."
"The Ghost of Innesport! Even here we get some news and this news has even made it out this far. This is the man who you trust as your lead! How can you trust a man who claims to have spent a great deal of time towards destroying your life."
"Well...," Alex said with a long pause. "He claims this is his redemption for everything he has done."
"Redemption! A man who has spent his life spreading corruption now suddenly pines for redemption and you believe him? You mentioned Darklings. I have no doubt he is such a man who might have dealing with them. How do you know this infamous man is not setting a trap for you."
"Trap? Why would he set a trap? He could have killed me the night we first met when he came into my study and took me completely unawares."
"Do you think that it matters to such a sick man. You claimed he devoted his whole life to ruining you. Do you think someone who goes to such lengths would not spend this much time to set a trap to destroy your life once and for all. There are many things worse than death my friend." Flint said, and for the first time since they had headed out on the road Alex doubted Ghost's motivations in this quest. Perhaps this whole thing was simply an elaborate plot to crush him completely. He wouldn't put it past the man. After all he did take away the only family Ghost had had, and now the last of his family was being taken away. Now that he thought about Ghost did know a lot about Darklings, he had even been raised by one, was it so impossible that he couldn't be in league with them?
"If you don't believe him, then why don't you interrogate him yourself." Alex said as just then Ghost was lead into the room by a small, beautiful woman. He looked pale, paler than usual, a sickly pale, most unlike the short woman who led him. She had pale skin as well, but it was soft and creamy, so very unlike Ghost's. Her most remarkable feature by far, was her brilliant red hair. It shimmered in the reflection of the torchlight, giving it a hazy quality in the dim light.
"Alex I'd like to introduce yourself to my fiancé Gwen." Flint said beaming, completely ignoring the man who trailed her.
"Ah, now I understand, the forgiveness." Alex said smiling. It seemed Flint had come into the same situation as Alex himself had once. "It's very nice to meet you Gwen." Alex said smiling, but it quickly slid from his face as he saw the look on Ghost's face.
"If there's going to be any interrogating, I think I'm going to be doing it." Ghost hissed as he came around Gwen to stand boldly before Alex and Flint.
"Flint I'd like to introduce you to my companion on this mission, Ghost." Alex said quietly.
"So this is him." Flint said looking Ghost up and down appraisingly.
"Yes this is him,"Ghost said forcing his words out. "And he doesn't enjoy being drugged, taken capture, and then made to answer questions. Now I think its my turn to ask a few questions as of what's going on."
"I have a few questions to ask myself first." Flint said gruffly.
"I will ask the questions now." Ghost said, seething in anger. This almost brought a little colour to his face. "I've already got enough questioning from that little witch, and she was of no use at all to me. Maybe one of you dolts can help me."
"Little witch!" Flint roared stepping aggressively towards Ghost. "I will not take that, not from one that I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw him."
"Yes and I'm sure you could throw me quite far, with your bulging arms. Although, I don't imagine your good for anything else other than doing the Rangers heavy lifting." Ghost said mockingly.
"What! First you insult my beautiful fiancé and now you insult me, this is too much. I am Head of the Rangers, I will not take it." Flint said taking another threatening step towards him.
"Head, of the Rangers!" Ghost said, almost shouting. "You are the head of this mysterious guild? It must be a very rag tag, poor group of individuals as well then , if they make you, this brute of a man, their leader."
"That's it!" Flint bellowed out in a murderous rage. "I will take no more!" Alex watched as Flint cocked his massive arm, just as he had done to Alex only minutes earlier, except his time he knew that there would be no holding back on Flint's part.
Flint swung with his right arm, and Ghost almost casually, stepped back just slightly out of range. Flint's fist almost grazed Ghost's nose. As Flint followed through on his punch Alex watched as Ghost grabbed hold of Flint's arm, and using the momentum of the swing Ghost swung around Flint and onto his back where he locked his arm around Flint's thick neck. Then he watched as Ghost flexed as hard as he could, his legs dangling above the ground, in an attempt the choke Flint out. Flint laughed uproariously, turning about, and shaking Ghost behind him this way and that.
"Good moves little man, but it will take more than your skinny arms to choke this bull out." Flint said laughing to himself.
"Laugh it up," Ghost said, as he shifted his hold on Flint's neck, a small knife materializing in his hands, as he did so. "Perhaps my skinny arms can subdue you while holding a knife." Ghost said sarcastically. "Now maybe I'll have my answers." Ghost said quietly.
"Ghost there's no need for this." Alex said quietly. "We can all talk a little more reasonably."
"I thought we searched him, and took away his weapons." Flint growled.
"Oh you did," Ghost said. "But some of my weapons were not made to be found."
"How?" Flint said seemingly in little concern for himself.
"They are small flexible blades which I had specially made so that they bend and can avoid detection," Ghost said, answering Flint's question. "But now I think I will be asking the questions."
For a long time everyone stood silent, until at last Ghost opened his mouth and began talking in his characteristically quiet voice.
"Alex, is it true you were once a Ranger?" Ghost said.
"Yes." Alex replied quietly.
"How did you come to be one?"
"I got lost heading south to seek my fortune when I was eighteen. Flint found me and brought me into the fold." Alex related.
"Flint found you? Then how is it that you are older, by almost twenty five years, than Flint?"
"I'm not," Alex said slowly. "In fact Flint is ten years my senior."
"That is not possible," Ghost said in quiet puzzlement. "He looks much younger that you."
"Ha," Flint huffed. "You don't know everything little man."
"Flint has been able to remain young, due to the fact of where he lives. In fact Flint, while looking like he is in his early thirty's, is actually sixty five."
"Once again, not possible." Ghost said.
"Anything is possible." Alex said with a hint of condescension in his voice. "What was it you said to me, have some imagination."
"That's it," Flint said huffing. "I've had enough of this game." With that Flint's hand shot out trying to grab Ghost by the wrist with far more agility than his large frame belied, but he caught only air as Ghost violently pulled his hand away in time. Then, having nothing to grab onto, Ghost planted his left foot into back of Flint's kneecap and thrust himself backwards. Alex was astounded as he watched Ghost flip backwards with almost acrobat like skill onto the large desk behind him, as Flint simultaneously crumpled to the floor. Flint came up fast to his feet and whipped around to face the man who had eluded him, only to find him standing easily upon the desk, holding another dagger which had almost miraculously appeared in his other hand.
"Realize that I could have killed you," Ghost almost whispered to a raging Flint. "But I do not want to hurt you. Obviously Alex has brought us here because you people may be of some us in my quest..."
"Your quest! Your quest!" Alex raged taking a threatening step towards Ghost yet again. "If what Alex tells me is true then it is his quest, and you're the no good rotter who is responsible."
"Yes my quest," Ghost said quietly, not showing a hint of emotion through his placid exterior. "And it is my quest because I regret the pain I have caused Alex. Once I was unsure if he would trust me enough to understand my change of heart, but since we have traveled together I can see that whether he does or not he will trust me if it means getting his daughter back. A goal we can share in common." Ghost confessed staring past Flint to look meaningfully into Alex eyes. Then his eyes became hard and cold once more and he refocused his gaze on Flint. "And if I were you friend, I would not take another step closer. We already found out how far that line of action got you. Now step back." Ghost said cooly.
"I still don't trust one so sneaky as you!" Flint bellowed, but Alex noted that despite his noise he did indeed take a half step backwards. "I mean how can we..."
"It's alright Flint." Alex said putting a hand on the large man's shoulder. "I trust him."
"What! Alex be reasonable. He is a deceitful person."
"He may have been at one point, but thus far he has shown himself to be only an upstanding man."
"Has shown himself, Alex, the devil does not came out and slap you on the face and pronounce he is the devil. He steals into your mind in the night, unawares. He presents himself as being an upstanding person. In fact sometimes I said that devil is no man at all, in fact, the devil is like a beautiful woman who steals your heart before you know she has it." Flint said as emphatically as he could.
"Oh, so now you be callin' me the devil do you," Flint turned suddenly at the sound of a feminine voice. "Or is that I be ugly." They had all forgotten about Gwen, Flint's beautiful fiancé, who now stood at the back of the room with her head up and her chest puffed out proudly. "Or perhaps it be that I have not stole your heart as you say I have when we lay together in the same bedroll."
"Gwen, I'm sorry I forgot you were here, do you think you could..." Flint said his words stumbling jerkedly out of his mouth before Gwen could cut him off."
"Oh so you forgot about me did you?" She said sweetly. "And I suppose you'd like the little woman to prance away now and fix you a meal." She said, her voice becoming progressively harder.
"No Gwen I just thought..."
"That's right, you thought. Men, always thinking that they can think. Well let me tell you what I think, you big lummox. I think that so far this man despite his need to seem dangerous has been as harmless as a fly. Your not afraid of a wittle fly are you." She said becoming more and more patronizing. "And he has been nothing but a gentleman compared to the big oaf whose been trying to bully him. He seems dedicated in this, and one this that my people respect above all else is dedication and honor. Both of which he possesses. Now we are having a feast tonight and by the looks of our pale friend he could use some celebration and some food. So leave him be and tomorrow when we start out journey we can find out a little more about one another."
"We. Leaving. Tomorrow." Flint said slowly.
"Yes, I assume no matter what the problem is that you will be accompanying Alex on his journey."
"Well yes but, what about the we. You don't assume that you'll..."
"That I'll what. Come along. Oh, yes I definitely intend on coming along. Besides who would protect you from yourself if I didn't." Gwen said frostily
"But what about him..." Flint said almost pleadingly.
"He will come and join the feast, and tomorrow, during the ride we'll all talk. And now I have much to attend to this night if we leave tomorrow. I expect you do as well." And with that she stormed out the room almost gracefully.
Alex and Flint looked at each other almost questioningly. Flint looked dazed as if he had just been hit by a run away horse, although Alex had seem him take down a galloping run away horse an it hadn't affected him nearly so much. Alex looked up to Ghost you had concealed his weapons during Gwen's rhetoric, but saw that for the most part he was stunned at the performance as well. Finally Flint pulled himself together enough to look hard at Ghost.
"I don't know what you did to her, but you're lucky that it worked." Flint said grimacing.
"I did nothing." Ghost responded softly.
"And that's for the best. You stay away from her." He said nearly growling. "Now get lost before I change my mind." Ghost hopped off and casually strode to the doorway. Alex found it slightly unnerving how he seemed to be able to do anything casually. As if he let nothing bother him.
"I'll have men watching you, so don't try anything tricky." Flint huffed and Ghost shrugged nonchalantly.
"We will talk later. Be sure of that." With that Ghost left the room and Alex was yet again left alone with Flint who now stood staring down at the floor. A long while past, both of them reflecting on the events that had just occurred. Could it be true. Could all this be a trap. Alex thought not. He did not know why, but something told him that he could trust this mysterious figure. Something told him that he had to. He knew not why, but deep inside he knew that his faith in Ghost was important. More so even than to just himself. Finally after many minutes of such thought Flint spoke up.
"Is wasn't supposed to be like this." He said looking up into Alex's eyes, a hint of a smile on his face. "You are the one who gets all tangled up with women, not me. That was your thing."
"Yes and I had to leave this place because of it. Would you be so willing to do the same?" Alex questioned.
"Twenty five years ago I would have said no, but now...now things are different. Well you saw how she twists me around. I would do anything for her."
"Just like I would have done anything for Dahlia," Alex said looking hard into Flint's eyes. "Just like I'd do anything for our daughter. Even if it means trusting someone I would rather not."
"But Alex you can't expect me to..." Flint said before Alex cut him off.
"I expect you to. Just like I would expect you to if you had a daughter with Gwen and she were in danger."
"Everyone deserves a second chance Flint, isn't that what you said to me? Think about that. I'll talk to you in the morning." With that Alex turned and walked through the arched doorway leaving his friend all alone. He wandered aimlessly for a while, his mind was lost in thoughts of his wife and of his past. He was lost in thoughts of a strange man whom he trusted but logically he should shun. Mostly he was lost in thoughts of his daughter and how he longed to see her face again. He wandered deep in thought for what seemed a lifetime until the smell of roasting boars meat shook him from his reverie. He had not realized how close to the kitchens he had wandered and as his stomach growled he realized suddenly how hungry he really was. Shaking himself violently to erase his waking dreams he allowed a smile to spread across his face. It had been a long time since he had been with the Rangers and if he remembered correctly their celebrations were legendry and their feasts fit for a king. A smile lighting his face further, he pushed his darker thoughts behind him, and started off in the direction he smelled the roasting boar. Perhaps that could cure him of his growling stomach.
* * *
(Author's Note: Okay, I warned you that this was a long chapter with lots a dialog, but its one of those chapters you have to write to try and provide some background information. I hope its not too confusing. If anyone has any questions about the Rangers or whatever please write and tell me and I'll write the answers into the following chapters or just email you back to clarify. Some info has been left out perposefully but if anything is really confusing then let me know. Sometimes I forget what I've written and whats still in my head, so sorry if it's confusing. Other than that I have one more chapter to get through before things get a little more intense. Please keep reading and thanks to anyone and everyone who is reading and reviewing this, it helps me make time to do this. Oh yeah and does anyone have any ideas about titles for my cahpters. I suck at naming them. They're really horrible. Thanks again.)